Photograph above, "Hotel Newspaper," taken in Maine with a Leica MP24o
The Art of Seeing and Visual Literacy
Looking and seeing are not the same. Someone who is looking at an image or work of art is only picking up a few small details; much like skimming text in a book. Someone who "sees" has the ability to decode all the elements of an image or work of art. In other words, looking is passive while seeing is comprehensive.
Art is a universal language and a form of communication. To become a visually literate artist, you need to learn the language of art; meaning the alphabet, the grammar, and the vocabulary of seeing. In simpler terms, a visually literate artist can read, write, and interpret the visual language. In modern times, becoming visually literate is more important than ever. Because of the Internet and technology, we have become a media-driven culture that relies almost entirely on images. In fact, most people view images, on average, about 7.5 hours a day.
Currently, our education system teaches textual literacy and computer literacy but neglects visual literacy as a core curriculum. Also, far too many artists aren't taught the visual language as part of their art educational program. This lack of knowledge prevents the contemporary artist from ever reaching their full potential, and their overall body of work suffers dramatically. Therefore, if an artist can't read or write the visual language, they won't have the necessary skills to apply that knowledge to their own work, and effective communication through art becomes impossible.
Teaching Visual Literacy in America (K-12)
Due to the recent revival of classical skill-based art education in America, the lessons required to become a visually literate artist are currently taught starting at the early age of five (kindergarten) and continue through the student's high school years (K-12). By the ninth grade, students are introduced to the golden section, the Fibonacci spiral, the armature of the rectangle, and other design tools to learn the basic skills necessary for analyzing (deconstructing and reconstructing) a master artist's work. Below is an image from the ninth-grade lesson "Composition Study with Chardin" from the website The Da Vinci Initiative.